What Is Laughing Death Disease?

By Antonia Čirjak on April 17 2020 in Did You Know

The first mention of this disorder was in 1957 when it was described by the Australian doctor Zigasom and American scientist Carleton Gajdusek.
  • The cause of this disease is abnormally folded prion proteins.
  • The word “Kuru,” when used by the Fore tribe, has two meanings, “deterioration” and “trembling.”
  • There is no cure for Kuru, it usually lasts for one year and ends in death.

Kuru, which is sometimes referred to as the Laughing Death disease, is an extremely rare, fatal disease that developed amongst the New Guinea aborigines from the Fore tribe. It is a neurodegenerative disorder and was first discovered in the early 20th century. The cause of this disease is abnormally folded prion proteins.

People with the disease show symptoms such as tremors and loss of coordination. Another symptom is pathological bursts of laughter, which is the reason the disease is often called the Laughing Death. The first mention of this disorder was in 1957 when it was described by the Australian doctor Zigasom and American scientist Carleton Gajdusek.

A Disease Emerging From Cannibalism

The word “Kuru,” when used by the Fore tribe, has two meanings, “deterioration” and “trembling,” and since one of the symptoms of the disease is tremors, it is clear how it got its name. The members of the tribe initially believed that this disease appeared as a result of an evil eye created by an alien shaman. However, the truth is actually extremely gruesome.

It was proven that this disease appears because of cannibalism. The people of the Fore tribe performed cannibalistic rituals during their funerals. They believed that they could inherit the intellect and other qualities of a person who died if they ate their corpse. The members of the tribe that usually performed this ritual were women and children, so the disorder was most commonly found in them.

Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies

There is no cure for Kuru, it usually lasts for one year and ends in death. The Laughing Death is a well-known example of transmissible prion disease in humans. The disease occurs when abnormally folded prion proteins are transmitted, and we call those types of diseases transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Because of the Laughing Death disease, medical experts were able to develop this concept in the first place.

The symptoms of this disease are plentiful. Most commonly, patients will experience a loss of coordination and tremors. However, other symptoms can include muscle twitching and impulsive movements of the head that are often accompanied by laughter. People suffering from Kuru also have walking and eating difficulties and experience extreme mood changes. They suffer from strong headaches, fatigue, and dementia. Some other smaller symptoms that often appear are a cough, a runny nose, and a fever.

The Three Stages

This disease develops in a person through three stages. At the start, they can feel a headache and joint pain. They can also start experiencing the loss of control over their body. The second stage is marked by the inability to walk. This is also when the tremors and sudden movements start to happen more often. Once the disease develops further and moves on to the third stage, the person loses the ability to speak and stops eating because they have difficulty swallowing.

Kuru is diagnosed through a neurological examination. This examination most commonly includes medical history, blood tests for thyroid, liver, and kidney function, as well as for the folic acid level and neurological function tests. All of these tests mostly serve the purpose of excluding other conditions.

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